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Beck, Arcade Fire and the music videos inviting fans in

Beck
Image caption Beck's experiments with music videos include a 360 degree experience through his project Hello Again

Picture the scene: you're at home watching the latest concert by your favourite musician.

The crowd is raving, the singer approaches them holding the microphone out and a few people climb past security onto the stage. But alas, stuck in front of your computer screen, you can't join them.

Except now you can - if you're a fan of American musician Beck, that is.

He is one of a few artists making interactive music videos requiring fan participation.

Throughout his 20-year career the industry has seen many changes, including more people now watching music videos on YouTube than on MTV.

Beck has made many memorable music videos, though he started out with limited means.

"[For] my first video we had no money," he says. "I had a friend who had film in the freezer left over from film school and we used that one roll of film.

"Every frame was precious."

The video in question was for his hit song Loser, which went on to sell half a million copies and became one of the defining singles of the 1990s.

Join Beck on stage

"I was surprised when some of these videos actually got played," he continues about his early releases.

"Most of them were just friends who were making them and editing them."

Since then the 43-year-old has collaborated with acclaimed directors such as Spike Jonze and Michael Gondry on his music videos.

Earlier this year he took this one step further, developing a 360 degree experience with director Chris Milk.

In Hello Again viewers can join Beck onstage or stroll around among the 170 musicians as they play David Bowie's Sound and Vision.

Image caption Hello Again allows viewers to join Beck in the auditorium and to move around as though they were present at the concert

Viewers move around by turning on their computer's webcam and moving their heads in the direction they want to move in.

Coming to life

For Beck, music videos can create a strong connection between bands and fans in the digital age.

"I grew up in an era where the packaging was such a big part of how you related to the music," he says.

The cover of Psychocandy, the first Jesus and Mary Chain album, which has a bold design and stark red, white and black colour scheme, had an especially strong influence on how he related to the band and came to understand them.

"It gave me enough information, it opened up a whole idea about where this music is coming from and what it was."

He believes music videos can fulfil this role in today's digital era where there is less emphasis on physical records.

"I felt that they were album artwork come to life," he says about these videos.

Creating bonds

The Google Creative Lab's Aaron Koblin has directed several interactive music videos.

The 31-year-old heads the data arts team and grew up in the era of big budget videos which played a large role in teen culture, but says the fan was passive.

"When I used to watch music videos it was very much 'I am receiving the content which is helping me understand and create a picture of the musician's identity'," he says. "But it didn't necessarily make me feel all that much closer."

He thinks interactive web-based videos enable a new way of creating that bond.

Image caption Arcade Fire have released several interactive music videos requiring fan participation

He has worked with Arcade Fire on videos that require fans to interact with the band.

"I hope we can create a deeper emotional experience which will then help bring a better connection," he says.

Together with director Vincent Morisset, he aimed to do just that with the Just A Reflektor project, which uses the title track from Arcade Fire's latest album.

Fans connect their smartphone to their webcam via a unique code on the video's site.

By moving their smartphone around viewers can change the visual effects on the video, creating sprinkles of light and colour. They also can guide the protagonist on her journey and eventually join her.

"Your phone and computer are actually talking to each other," Mr Koblin says.

"The computer is observing and talking about the phone's location and movement and in doing that is able to construct and change the story based around the way the phone is being moved around."

Image caption Just A Reflektor was recorded in Haiti and uses the title track of Arcade Fire's latest album
Image caption Director Vincent Morisset (front, centre) and creative director Aaron Koblin (far right) aimed to allow viewers to control the focus and effects of the video
Image caption By gesturing to a webcam with a smartphone viewers can change the visual effects, for example by throwing light on to the video from different angles
Image caption The smartphone can be moved around to create different types of effect
Image caption Created as an experiment for Google Chrome the team has released the code and tools created to make the video

Not easy

While videos are increasingly being viewed on the internet, interactive web-based ones are still rare.

Just A Reflektor uses new code and tools, that were specifically created for the Google Chrome browser.

"These things aren't that easy to make yet," Mr Koblin explains.

Creating these new tools is currently the most expensive part of making these videos.

"That's part of why when we create them we're releasing a lot of the code that we used and a lot of the tools that we created so we can encourage other people to get involved."

Arcade Fire have tried the interactive experience before in another experiment for Google Chrome.

The song We Used To Wait was used by Mr Koblin and Mr Milk to become the interactive experience The Wilderness Downtown, which uses Google Earth to bring a new dimension to the song.

Viewers type in their home address and will see images of where they grew up within the video.

Jordan Gauthier is an Arcade Fire fan and says their interactive videos have strengthened his relationship with the band.

He grew up in the French suburban town of Rennes and says The Wilderness Downtown made him relate to the song in a new way by helping him recall his childhood memories.

"It's like putting your own memories into the video," he says. "I thought that was amazing."

Infinite possibilities

Image caption The Johnny Cash Project is crowdsourced and made up of stills drawn by fans

Ultimately Beck thinks the web opens up numerous possibilities to interact with fans.

"I think that's an infinite idea," he says. "That kind of idea is going to spread because the technology exists."

He points to the success of crowdfunding in other fields and thinks more videos will source their ideas and materials from fans in the future.

Mr Koblin and Mr Milk crowdsourced for The Johnny Cash Project, which features the song Ain't No Grave.

Released after Cash's death, the interactive site pays tribute to him through a video made up of stills drawn by fans.

Viewers can then select and watch the frames in different orders. As material is continuously being added to the project, every viewing is unique.

Image caption The Johnny Cash Project includes some realistic stills and more abstract renditions, and fans can choose to watch the video depending on these styles

Frankenstein videos

Crowdsourcing can also build closer bonds between fans themselves, according to British director Ninian Doff.

He crowdsourced images of fans dancing to make the video for Graham Coxon's What It'll Take.

One hundred fans sent in videos from 28 countries, and Mr Doff cut up all the videos for the final piece.

"It's a big jumble," he explains.

"Sometimes it's one person's legs and another person's top half, or it's one person's legs, one person's body, one person's head.

"It's like making a Frankenstein out of fans' bodies."

Image caption Monster creation: The video for What It'll Take features body parts of 100 fans, crowdsourced by the director

And people managed to find themselves and each other through leaving comments about the video online.

"One person commented saying, 'Oh that's me at 2 minutes 5 seconds'," Mr Doff says. "Then another person replied, 'I'm your legs at 2 minutes 5 seconds'.

"They'd managed to meet over the internet through being connected in the video."

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